Reflections on Norbertine Formation


With the Laying on of Hands and with Prayer

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

The ritual for ordaining a priest in the Catholic Church is a ceremony rich in symbolism. Most people seem to be drawn to two elements: the dramatic gesture of the Litany of the Saints being sung as the ordinand lies prostrate before the altar, and the moment following when the ordaining bishop and all the other attending priests prayerfully lay hands on the head of the person being ordained, and with that the solemn prayer of consecration. The sight of the ordinand lying on the floor before the altar while the gathered assembly invokes the saints and heavenly powers is certainly a powerful moment in the ritual.

But it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action; everything else leads up to it and flows from it. I never fail to be moved by this simple ritual, the more so as I know the man being ordained. But one ordination stands out and has influenced me ever since.

Jim was a student at a Norbertine high school, a hockey player. He attended college out East. While he was a good man, a little on the wild side, we wouldn’t have pegged him for the priesthood. But as a college senior Jim had a profound conversion experience. After college he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We were friends from high school through college and his religious formation. So on May 27, 2000, I found myself participating in his priestly ordination in Baltimore.

… it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action …

—Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Perhaps because Jim’s ordination was my first outside the Norbertine community, I was more aware of what I was doing. It was a transcendent moment. I was deeply conscious this was not simply about the priesthood we all shared, but that in my heart it also represented the nearly 900-year tradition of Norbertine priesthood.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem., imposes hands upon the ordinand: Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 2015.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem., imposes hands upon the ordinand: Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 2015.

Well, a priest is a priest is a priest … right?

Yes—and no. There is a distinctive quality to this particular tradition that is challenging to put into words. It is a nuance, a Spirit, perhaps a particular way of exercising the priesthood of Christ that we all share.

Just as the whole Church, the Body of Christ, is a Royal Priesthood, so each Norbertine community is a priestly community. This embraces lay members, brothers (and sisters), as well as ordained members. The community as community offers a priestly service in the “sacrifice of praise” of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as well as the ministry of service to the local Church and to the world around us. The service of Norbertine priests, flowing from this priestly community, is a corporate ministry. We are not “lone rangers,” even when we find ourselves “alone” in a parish or classroom or other setting. We act—certainly in the name of Jesus—but also in the name and with the support of the entire brotherhood.

So in laying hands prayerfully on the head of Michael Brennan, O. Praem., on May 27, we not only pass on through Bishop David Ricken the ministry of Christ—our true and only Priest—but we also share with Michael the unique gift and orientation of this particular priestly community.

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.


As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of St. Norbert College Magazine

Unto the Next Generation

By Breanna Mekuly ’12

St. Norbert College

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., teaching at St. Norbert College | Photo courtesy of St. Norbert College (used with permission)

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., teaching at St. Norbert College | Photo courtesy of St. Norbert College (used with permission)

The Rev. Matt Dougherty, O.Praem., ’09 is ministering alongside some of his own former mentors in a year of teaching on campus before he moves on to doctoral studies.

Dougherty is serving at St. Norbert in the theology and religious studies discipline, and also as vocation director and chaplain at the parish. “This is my first time teaching, and so far it’s been a blast!” he says. “I’ve always loved theology, and to talk to people about something (and some body – Christ!) you love for a ministry is such a blessing!”

Of other Norbertines who have recently taken vows, Dougherty is the only one currently teaching at St. Norbert.

“It’s great to have a lot of other young Norbertines in the community,” he says. At the same time, he’s enjoying the company and wisdom of elder priests in the order. “I am privileged to be able to live with guys who really formed and shaped St. Norbert Abbey and the college for the past 50 plus years. After all, the average age of the Norbertines at St. Norbert Abbey is around 74 years old! These men have so much wisdom to pass on to us young guys, and it’s great to hear their stories, and how things have changed over the years.”

Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., on his vestition day in 2009, assisted by Fr. John Tourangeau, O. Praem. Read more about vestition and the Norbertine religious habit in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 3) article, “De·con·struct·ing the Habit.”

Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., on his vestition day in 2009, assisted by Fr. John Tourangeau, O. Praem. Read more about vestition and the Norbertine religious habit in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 3) article, “De·con·struct·ing the Habit.”

Many of these men are the mentors who guided Dougherty through his own vocational discernment. He remembers the Rev. Jim Baraniak, O.Praem., ’88, the Rev. Tim Shillcox, O.Praem., the Rev. John Bostwick, O.Praem., ’68, and the Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem., ’50 – all present on campus while Dougherty was a student. They not only taught him theology, but also provided spiritual direction, confession, and even lessons on the history of the Norbertine order.

Though Dougherty’s current positions focus on religion and theology, he is academically as interested in learning more about freshwater ecosystems, or aquatic ecology. His undergraduate degree was in organismal biology and he has hopes to continue studying aquatic ecology at the doctoral level in the fall of 2017. He anticipates that this doctoral degree will allow him to teach courses at St. Norbert College in the science department, or possibly on the intersection of religion and science.

I love helping students be challenged and affirmed in their faith.

—Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

As a young priest working at the college, Dougherty says, “I’ve been afforded the opportunity to try to bring the Catholic faith and Norbertine charism to the next generation.” And this is important to him; he believes the Norbertine presence on campus is necessary to continue the Norbertine and Catholic identity of the college.

“I look forward to introducing the students to these values,” Dougherty says. “It’s a big task, but a rewarding one!”

He is most interested in sharing the Norbertine value of communio. The word, as he understands it, means “trying to live in unity with God and others within a locality.” Communio, he believes, should then “combat individualism and divisiveness by claiming that before God we are one family, no matter our differences, and therefore we have responsibilities toward each other.”

With this, he hopes that St. Norbert College students, faculty and staff will continue to foster Norbertine values by maintaining peaceful community – regardless of division – and then proceeding to build more such communities wherever they may go next.

Fisher of Men

“I grew up in Waukesha, Wis., and I come from a proud Irish-Catholic family. Fishing and hunting are my passions. I’ve been fishing since I was a little kid, and have loved it ever since. It’s hard for me to look at a body of water without getting a strong urge to grab a rod and reel. My interest in hunting came a little later in college, but still remains a passion of mine. Aside from the outdoors, I really like good literature, good cigars, and good discussions!

“I love helping students be challenged and affirmed in their faith. I found my faith as a freshman at St. Norbert. In it I found a new way of looking at the world, and it changed my life. I’d love to help other students have a similar experience.”

– The Rev. Matt Dougherty, O.Praem., ’09


As seen in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 14-15)

A Priest for the People

By Katrina Marshall

On June 6, 2015, Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood.

Through ritual actions that contribute uniquely to the Rite of Ordination, he was given insight into his new identity. Of the major elements in this rite, first to occur was the Rite of Election, connecting the soon-to-be ordained with the faithful by asking their assent of his worthiness to fulfill priestly office. Bishop Robert Morneau (Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Green Bay) asked Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem. (representing the Norbertine community of St. Norbert Abbey and the entire People of God),

Do you know him to be worthy?

“You can’t help but feel humbled and a little bit nervous by that question, honestly,” shared Fr. Dougherty, reflecting on his ordination day. “Humbling is the best word. Because how can anyone be worthy—to perform the Sacraments, to follow Christ in that way? There’s a fear: am I really up for it? In a way, I’m not worthy. I don’t think anyone is worthy of such a gift.”

Following dialogue between Bishop Morneau and Abbot Neville affirming his worthiness, Fr. Dougherty received a lengthy round of approving applause—recognition of Christ working in him and an implicit invitation to enter into the lives of everyone.

“Amid feelings of unworthiness, to feel affirmation for my vocation through the applause was amazing,” said Fr. Dougherty. “Perhaps one of the most demanding pieces of priestly formation is coming to terms with one’s self: ‘Who am I to be a priest?’ Priesthood is an awesome gift and an awesome responsibility. These people are lifting you up to be their servant. By showing their assent, you are for them … to share in their most intimate moments, the ups and downs. Today, as a priest, I remain grateful. Never have I felt closer to God. Never have I experienced a stronger sense of identity or purpose. I am not a priest for myself, but a priest for Christ, his Church, and the world—I am a priest for the people.”

Religious Life is a Full Life / La Vida Religiosa – Una Vida Plena

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 2-3)

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Translated by Sr. Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

Crash! Crash! Crash! The young Norbertines peeked out from behind the curtains in the rectory office to discover six or seven young men using an old railway tie to try to batter down the door. What to do? The fraters were alone in the rectory. It was nighttime in 1968. Finally, one of them—probably naïvely—decided to engage the gang members and went outside to confront them.

After a little yelling and ranting, the situation calmed down but the conversation continued. The gang members were curious about these white boys, who they were, and how they lived. As they heard that the religious lifestyle embraces vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the boys’ response was a mixture of awe and skepticism. The most memorable comment was, “You don’t have money; you don’t do drugs; you don’t have sex. What the ____ do you live for?”

Many people view religious life as a life of sacrifice; they see it in terms of what the vowed woman or man gives up. But this is a distortion, however innocent. While it is true that the vowed life involves asceticism, a distinct discipline, this way of living is ordered to maximum freedom—freedom for love, service, and community.

Commitment can be the path to freedom for any person. We all make choices that exclude other options. In marriage a person commits self to one person “forsaking all others” until “death do us part.” The vows of religious, or equally, of marriage, are not focused on deprivation, but on freedom. They are a purposeful choice for something that is perceived as a good, positive, and fulfilling way of living and loving.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The vows of religious are one time-tested and honorable way of living in that fullness.

Plena por Padre John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Traducido por Hermana Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

(Ruido … Ruido … ) Los jóvenes Norbertinos se asomaron desde atrás de las cortinas en la oficina de la rectoría para descubrir a seis o siete jóvenes utilizando un palo viejo de ferrocarril, intentando destruir la puerta. ¿Qué hacemos? Los frailes estaban solitos en la rectoría. Era de noche en 1968. En fin, uno de ellos, a lo mejor ingenuamente, decidió confrontarlos y salió a ver que querían.

Después de un rato de gritar y argumentar, la situación se calmó pero la conversación siguió. Los miembros de la pandilla … curiosos acerca de estos muchachos vestidos de blanco … ¿Quiénes eran? y ¿Cómo vivían? … Mientras escuchaban que el estilo de vida religiosa implica los votos de pobreza, castidad y obediencia, la respuesta de los jóvenes era una mezcla de pavor y escepticismo. El comentario más memorable fue: “Ustedes no tienen dinero; no usan drogas; no tienen relaciones sexuales. ¿Para qué, viven … pues?”

Mucha gente considera la vida religiosa como vida de sacrificio; la ven en términos de lo que la mujer o el hombre con votos sacrifica. Pero esto es una distorsión, aunque sea inocente. Aunque es cierto que la vida con votos implica ascetismo, una disciplina distinta … esta manera de vivir produce la máxima libertad para amar y para el servicio en comunidad.

El compromiso puede ser camino hacia la libertad para cualquier persona. Todos hacemos elecciones que excluyen otras opciones. En el matrimonio una persona se compromete con otra persona “renunciando a todos los demás” hasta que “la muerte nos separe.” Los votos de religiosos, al igual que los del matrimonio, no se enfocan en la privación, sino en la libertad. Son una opción a propósito para algo que se percibe como manera buena, positiva y satisfactoria para vivir y amar.

Jesús dijo, “He venido, para que tengan vida y la tengan en plenitud” (Juan 10:10). Los votos de la vida religiosa son una manera probada por los tiempos y una manera honorable de vivir en esa plenitud.

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